The Baltimore Ravens will have a chance to clinch their first division title since 2012 when they host the Cleveland Browns in Week 17. The two AFC North rivals get started at 4:25 EST on Sunday, December 30, at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Large sections of the country will be able to watch the game on CBS.
Oddsmakers list the Ravens as 6-point favorites at home. The over/under is set at 41 points. Click here to check out all of the Week 17 NFL odds.
For the Ravens, it’s as simple as beat the Browns and win a division title. For what it’s worth, the Ravens have yet to officially clinch a playoff spot. However, they can kill two birds with one stone by taking care of business against Cleveland on Sunday. They also have a chance to earn a first-round bye if both the Patriots and Texans lose this week.
Of course, if they lose on Sunday, the Ravens could be left out of the playoffs altogether if the Steelers win. Fortunately for Baltimore, they are one of the hottest teams in the NFL, winning five of their last six games since Lamar Jackson took over as the starting quarterback. Last week, they scored a huge road win over the Chargers, which has people thinking of them as a serious contender in the AFC.
Meanwhile, the Browns are also one of the hottest teams in the NFL, winning five of their last six games as well. While they were eliminated from playoff contention before they kicked off last week, the Browns have a chance to earn their first winning season since 2007 if they can beat the Ravens on Sunday.
The Browns will also enjoy the opportunity to play spoiler against the franchise that once called Cleveland home. Also, after a 12-9 overtime win earlier this year, Cleveland has a chance to sweep Baltimore for the first time since 2007. However, the Browns have only one win in Baltimore since the 2007 season.
The Ravens have surely grown accustomed to playing in must-win games over the past two months. But now that they’re on top of the AFC North, they actually have something to lose. That will add a little more pressure to this game. The Browns, meanwhile, can play loose and not hold anything back. That should allow Cleveland to leave everything on the field and at least beat the spread as they try to spring an upset that ruins Baltimore’s season.
In fairness, Cleveland’s win over the Ravens earlier this season is their only win against a winning team. Of course, outside of last week’s win over the Chargers, the Ravens have also beat up on losing teams during their recent surge with Jackson at quarterback. I’m going to believe that Cleveland’s turnaround over the past couple of months is genuine and that they can keep up with the Raves over four quarters.
Obviously, the biggest key in this game is how well the Browns can defend the run. Under Jackson, Baltimore’s running game has been close to unstoppable. Jackson has done just enough to force teams to respect him as a passer, opening the door for both him and Gus Edwards to run the ball effectively. Edwards has rushed for at least 80 yards in five of his last six games, including three games of over 100 rushing yards. In fact, he’s finally surpassed Jackson as the team’s leading rusher.
Of course, it’s the Cleveland defense that has been the catalyst for their turnaround. Gregg Williams becoming the interim head coach has worked wonders. The Browns have allowed 20 points or less in five of their last six weeks. The Texans are the only team to surpass that total during that span. Again, the Browns have played mostly losing teams recently, but it shouldn’t take away what they’ve accomplished on that side of the ball.
Against the run, the Browns have been solid but unspectacular. They were shredded against the Texans, which is why they lost that game. However, they also stuffed Denver’s potent rushing attack, including Pro Bowler Philip Lindsay. They also managed to avoid getting hurt too much against Joe Mixon and Christian McCaffrey in recent weeks, so they’ve faced quality running backs over the last month. That should have them well-prepared to face the Jackson-Edwards tandem.
On the other side of the ball, the Browns will also need their offense to contribute something substantial against one of the best defenses in the NFL. Nick Chubb has rushed for 100 yards or more in back-to-back games, albeit against questionable defenses. Baker Mayfield has also had some of his best games in recent weeks. He also threw for over 300 yards against Baltimore earlier this year, even if the Browns only scored 12 points in that game. However, Mayfield is still young and turnover-prone. His three interceptions against the Texans doomed the Browns a few weeks ago, and he can’t repeat that against the Ravens.
In the end, I think the Browns will do enough to keep this game within six points. They have a few too many question marks to make me think they can beat a quality team on the road. But the Ravens also have some shortcomings, which should help keep the Browns in the game. With a 6-point spread, I feel good about taking Cleveland and the points.